by Starsky Hutch 76 and Martin Maenza
On a gorgeous Saturday in May above a lush green island in the middle of the East River, the Sun reached the peak of its daily climb. Not a cloud in the sky dared share its space as the gaseous orb showered down its brilliance upon those gathered below.
Only one thing dared cross its face. It was a winged man with long, flowing purple hair. He wore an ornate tunic of gold that allowed his large, white, feathery appendages to move about freely. With gentle grace, he circled once before making his descent to the island below. “The time has come,” he said to himself. “The time to seal our love is upon us.”
Azrael landed upon the open spot. “My love, I am ready!” he announced.
A beauty with long red hair stood waiting to take his hand. She wore a white tunic and sandals, reminiscent of the Greek gods whose bloodline she shared. The winged man kept his eyes focused on the woman he loved with his whole heart and being, paying little heed to the others who drew around them. The males were dressed in suits, the women in dresses. Three bridesmaids, two with dark hair and one with flowing brown hair, were dressed in similar white tunics. Yet all their beauty combined could not match that of his bride-to-be.
They were her friends, Lilith’s friends. She insisted they be present for the ceremony; he did not care one way or the other. He did not need witnesses to the profession of his love for Lilith Clay. All he needed was her. Still, it made her happy. And he would do anything to make her happy.
Lilith raised her face skyward and took his hands. “We have gathered this day to recite the traditional vows of Hymeneal. We wish to join the threads of our fates into one stronger, more vibrant weave,” she said.
Cyborg frowned as he detected a figure standing on the opposite shore waiting for the automated barge that carried visitors across the river to the island.
Garfield Logan noticed he was distracted and whispered to him. “What is it? What do you see?”
Cyborg said, “Trust me, you don’t want to know!” He remotely activated the code that allowed the barge to float across to where the dark figure could climb aboard. The boat started to make its passage across the river.
Lilith, meanwhile, continued the rather lengthy ceremony. “We shall offer these vows of devotion as a sign of our love for one another.” The barge came closer to the shore. Its movement was caught in the corner of her eye, causing her to pause in her words.
She turned that way, only for surprise to over take her. “By the gods!” Lilith exclaimed, her jaw dropping. “How can this be?”
Azrael stepped closer to her, putting his arm about her shoulders in a protective manner. He glared at the newcomer and said, “What is the meaning of this interruption?”
Donna Troy Long turned to Wally West, Dick Grayson, Roy Harper, Garth, and Mal Duncan in silent questioning. “Can it really be–? He’s dead!” she muttered. The others gathered murmured amongst themselves.
The hulking man in black climbed ashore from the barge and stood before them in the sunshine. “It’s me. I’ve come back–” he growled, “–come back for the love of Lilith!”
“Gnarrk!” the red-haired beauty cried.
Charley Parker turned to his green friend. “Whoa! How can, like, the gnarly Gnarrk be totally up and about?”
“No clue,” said Gar Logan.
Dick Grayson eyed the figured with a critical eye. He sized up the round, blunt-faced man with stringy black hair. The facial features appeared to be as he remembered them — the broad shoulders, the large-boned and heavily muscled frame, the oversized hands, the way he stood with a slight slump. Everything from an outside appearance seemed to indicate that this was indeed the Cro-Magnon man that had once been a member of their team.
Still, Dick knew better than to trust outward appearances alone. Batman had trained him far too well for that. Dick knew that John Gnarrk, as they had dubbed him, was dead. He had been killed a little more than five years ago.
It was time to play detective. “Hold it right there,” Dick Grayson said. “You can’t just waltz in here, on a day such as today, and expect us all to believe that you are who you appear to be.”
The newcomer smiled a broad, crooked-toothed smile. “Always the skeptic, Bat-boy,” he grumbled. “Expected as much. Knew I couldn’t come for my fiancée without giving some answers.”
“She is not your fiancée!” Azrael snapped. “She is the woman I love, and we are about to be joined in a ceremony of the gods!”
Gnarrk drew up his shoulders. “We’ll see, bird-man!” He stood firm, ready for any assault.
Azrael’s brow furrowed. “Who does this oaf think he is?” he asked. “He dares challenge me? I will fight until my last breath for the hand of my beloved!”
“Last breath?” Gnarrk snarled. “It can be arranged!”
“Guys?” Wally said, looking at his friends. “We’d better put a stop to this.” The others nodded in agreement. Wally quickly rocketed over to Gnarrk’s side with super-speed. “Whoa, big guy. Time for you to chill out, OK?”
Mal joined them. “Wally’s right,” he said. “If you are who you say you are, don’t let your fists do the talking for you. Let’s let cooler heads prevail, all right?”
Gnarrk looked at the two men and then turned back to Azrael. Roy and Garth were doing their best to hold the winged man back, much to Azrael’s dismay. Dick stood with Lilith, who still appeared to be very shaken by all of this; she hadn’t uttered another word since he arrived. The shock was too great for her. “Fine!” Gnarrk said. “We talk!”
The reception room on the third level of Titans Tower had been decorated for the celebration after the ceremony. There was very little of that going on, however. The banner that said “Congratulations, Lilith and Azrael” had been torn by the angry winged man and hung to the floor on one side. A table had been set at one end of the room with finger sandwiches, a cake, and a punch bowl. The ice that floated in the crimson liquid had all but melted.
Given that the ceremony was called off, or at least postponed for this day, some of the guests had left the island. Loren Jupiter had a dinner engagement he needed to attend to in the city. Terry Long had left to pick up his daughter Jennifer from her play date. Garth and Ulla had taken off as well. Of those that remained, half were still in the reception area.
“Man, this is, like, a total bummer,” Charley said as he snagged another sandwich and stuffed it in his mouth.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Gar replied, doing the same.
Karen Duncan got up from her seat and slapped both their hands before they could take more. “Will you two behave?” she said. “There’ll be time to eat later, once the others figure out what’s going on.”
“Yeah, salad-head,” Cyborg said. “Didn’t Dayton pay for you to go to school for manners?”
“Aw, I’m just frustrated is all,” Gar said. “How come we have to hang out here while they’re in there where the action is? We’re Lilith’s friends too, you know. Heck, Charley and I even worked with Gnarrk out in California for a while. That should entitle us.”
“Gar, you know Dick wanted it to be a fair investigation,” Koriand’r said. “If we were all in there, it would appear to be more of an inquisition than a fact-finding session.”
“Right,” Karen said. “Dick wanted those who knew Gnarrk and Lilith the longest in there. That’s why he asked the rest of us to stay out. We may not like it, but we have to abide by his decision.”
“Looks like we’re not the only ones who are totally bummed about it,” Charley added. He gestured out the sliding glass doors to the patio area.
The winged Azrael stood there, facing the west. The sun was slowly sinking on the horizon, creating a crimson glow in the sky. The color mirrored the anger and frustration that lay silently building in his heart. He had only agreed to stay out of the meeting because Lilith begged him to. Only her opinion mattered to him. He would remain at his position, though. He was not about to depart the Tower without the woman he loved. His hand slid down unconsciously to his waist, gripping the hilt of the sword he wore for the wedding ceremony.
“So how come Raven’s in there?” Gar asked.
Almost as if on cue, the dark-haired woman entered the lounge. As she did so, she passed by Frances Kane, who was about to take a seat. “Frances,” she said, acknowledging the young woman and stepping aside.
“Raven,” Frances said, a slight coldness to her voice. She had never felt comfortable around Raven and had agreed to stay only because Wally asked her to. This was New Titans business and really none of her concern. She sat down, hoping it would be over soon. She picked up a magazine and tried to just forget the whole thing.
Gar changed into a rabbit and hopped over to the approaching empath. “Well, well, well,” he talked in a rapid-fire manner. “What’s going on in there? What’s being said? Who did what? Tell us, tell us, tell us!”
Victor plunged his hand down, grabbed the rabbit by the ears, and tossed him skillfully onto the empty couch. “Don’t mind him,” Victor said. “Too much sugar.” The rabbit bounced on the cushions once before changing back into the green young man.
“Any word?” Kory asked.
“I’ll tell you what I told Richard when he asked me in there,” Raven said. “He wanted me to see if I could get a feel from this Gnarrk’s mood. My empathic powers were able to pick up two very strong emotions: anger and love. I was not able to sense anything else over these two overriding emotions. It would appear, at least on an emotional level, that this man cares very deeply for Lilith and was angered by her imminent wedding to another.”
Karen glanced back at the door. “I just hope they’re able to tell something more soon.”